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Syrian president approves changes to property law

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad has approved amendments to a controversial law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the civil war.

The amendments, published by state news agency SANA late Sunday, say residents now have a full year instead of one month to prove they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects. Otherwise, the ownership will be transferred to the local government.

Last month, U.N. humanitarian aid official Jan Egeland said that Syria’s government had withdrawn the law, saying he was told of the decision by Russia, a key ally of Assad that tipped the balance of power in his favor since joining the war three years ago.

The Syrian government passed Law 10 in April to create “redevelopment zones” to rebuild property damaged in seven years of civil war.

Prior to the latest amendment, Human Rights Watch had said the government passed laws in order to seize private property, displace residents and discourage refugees from returning.

The new draft says property owners will have to put forward an application giving their residency address along with the documents proving ownership or a list of properties.

SANA quoted Hussein Makhlouf, minister of local administration, as saying that the amendments give citizens enough time to put forward documents regarding their ownership.

A third of Syria’s housing has been destroyed in the last seven years, according to Human Rights Watch. The World Bank says Syria has suffered close to $300 billion in material damage through its war.

In northern Syria, a car bomb in a Turkish-controlled town killed one person, wounded 24 and caused extensive material damage on Monday, Turkey’s state-run news agency and a war monitor said.

The Anadolu Agency said the explosion occurred in front of a school in the town of Jarablus. Five of the wounded were in serious condition and were evacuated to Turkey for treatment.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast killed one person and wounded nine, adding that it occurred near a local police station.

No one immediately claimed the attack.

The town is part of a swath of territory in northern Syria that has been under Turkish control since 2016, when Syrian rebels backed by Turkey drove out Islamic State militants.

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